April 3, 2013

ATM Skimming Modus Operandi - Almost a Victim

I want to start this blog with "once upon a time" but this is not a fairy tale, but it does have a happy ending. Anyway, the story started last month. We received an email from our HR Organizational Team warning us of the ATM Skimming Modus Operandi. The email contained safety tips and an announcement that some employees might have been affected of this - with their accounts being compromised. 

I just skimmed the email and it went straight to my Archive, I was thinking I would never be a victim of this scam. There are thousands of employees in our company, and millions of ATM users in the Philippines. Then again, what made me special?

Until, the witch came.. One fine day, before going home from work, I stopped at the ATM machine in the lobby of our office in Eastwood to withdraw money. The screen greeted me with Your account is invalid. I was thinking the machine was acting up and probably the bank was having difficulty connecting to my bank. I have a BDO Payroll account and I used an East West Bank ATM. I thought probably the system was down. I found a BDO ATM machine in Gateway and I tried my luck to withdraw money. But before I can even enter my PIN, the ATM had captured my card and the screen told me Your Account has been blocked.

Are you kidding me?

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I am thinking probably my card was placed next to a magnet - somewhere in my purse, which deleted my card data. I was ready to kick myself. 

I called the BDO Customer Service as soon as I got home just to check if it is normal for an ATM machine to capture a card which is no longer usable (thinking it was the card which is unreadable). 

The agent told me that BDO actually blocked my card, thinking my data has been compromised. I asked how it has been compromised? But the agent couldn't provide anymore details. She told me to go to my BDO branch to secure a new card - and I don't have to pay anything for the replacement. Thank God. I saved Php100. 

How unfortunate that I didn't have an ATM on a pay period. I went to the BDO Eastwood branch and reported my case. It is as if the bank manager knew I was coming - she checked my name from the list (a 2-inch thick file) and confirmed. She asked me to sign some forms and asked me to verify my record - handing me a form with my picture looking at me. Yikes, the form I accomplished 5 years ago when I was still a new hire. 

It appeared that there are hundreds of employees whose ATM had been blocked. 

I requested to get the card on the same day - I don't need my name engraved on the card anyway, I needed the cash on my account. For those who want to have their names engraved, they must come back the following day. That's too much trouble for me. 

So while waiting for my card, I did a Q&A with the bank manager. I asked how did they know which accounts were compromised. She said that it could be I have used an ATM machine which is suspected and reported as had been skimmed. So they blocked all BDO Payroll accounts which had transaction on those machines. 

It was so much trouble for me, but I appreciate BDO's control measure on this. I received the new card and ensure that I always empty the account - or just leave enough amount for emergency. 

Thank you BDO for the sense of urgency! I always love BDO for delivering our pay on time (oftentimes two days ahead of pay period), and for always waiving my BDO Credit Card annual fee. Tehehehe.. 

So what are the safety measures to avoid being a victim of ATM Skimming? 

  • Always cover your hand when entering PIN - we found out that Skimmers install camera on top of the machine to record how you enter your PIN - this is even when key pad has cover. 
  • Always check the card slot if it is blinking (green)
  • Regularly change your PIN - and don't use your date of birth! 
  • Only transact at ATM machines with bank branch - stand-alone ATMs are the common targets of skimmers. 
  • Enroll in online banking so you have visibility to your account's activities real time. You can also conveniently transfer money from your Payroll account to Savings account without going to the bank (yeah, yeah, love online banking!)
  • Report fraud transactions immediately so your bank can investigate and take action. 

Last week, I heard that some people had been victimized by the ATM skimming. One had an unathorized withdrawal of Php7,000, the other is Php1,000 and there is one missing her one-month salary. What is interesting, one transaction was withdrawn somewhere in Commonwealth. It only means that these thieves are just here. Not in Bulgaria or Bermuda. 

Probably these thieves even tried to withdraw money from my account but just failed because there is nothing to withdraw. Booo. 

What to do when you have been a victim of ATM Skimming?

  • Report the case to your bank.
  • Remember your last transaction - this will be the bank's basis on when you last used your ATM card. 
  • Secure Police Report - it might be required for the bank for investigation. 
  • Be patient with the investigation - of course banks will need to check if the claim is true, as people might take advantage of this issue. 

I am shaking my head thinking how people use technology to steal other people's money. Now, let me end this article and check my accounts online. 

Do you have ATM Skimming story? tips? Share 'em!

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